Has there been a ‘silent revolution’ in Europe’s advanced industrial democracie

In 1971 Ronald Inglehart identified a significant changing of social and political values in West European Countries.

He signalled that ‘A transformation may be taking place in the political cultures of advanced industrial societies’ (Inglehart, 1971, p. 991). This essay will analyse in what way these changes have taken place and how true Inglehart’s theory is, with reference to some of Europe’s advanced industrial democracies.

Class divide within West European countries has in the past been a significant factor when individual voters have chose who to vote for, ‘patterns of electoral alignment were overwhelmingly structured by the class cleavage’ (Webb and Fisher, 1999, page 9), with working class votes generally going to leftist parties whereas bourgeoisie and upper class voters mostly opted for political parties who were more Conservative and defended capitalism.However the class system within post industrial West European countries has changed significantly, ‘Western democracies are no longer shaped by class politics’ (Kitschelt, 1995, p. 24). Instead political parties have become more vague in their beliefs in order to attract all sections of the electorate. An example of this class structure and how it has changed is in ‘Britain, [which is] one of the best known examples of electoral dealignment in Western Europe’ (Dunleavy, 1987, p. 400). This divide of classes was due to a number of things, the rise of the labour party was one with them taking over from the Liberal Party as one of the main two political parties with the conservatives.This occurred at the beginning of the 20tt century and created, more than ever, a sense of class divide in politics.

Also the rise of socialism throughout Europe, which had stemmed from the former U. S. S. R, created strong political divisions between classes. The shift from this class structure within British politics has happened due to a number of reasons. The end of the Cold War deteriorated bitter class based political differences as most people accepted ‘the worldwide triumph of western Liberal Democracy’ (Heywood, 1997, p.

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8). Also new issues have come on to the political agenda, an important one being the progress of European Integration. Indeed ‘the multiple challenges that the major parties have had to contend with since 1970 have wrought significant changes in the working of the party system’ (Webb and Fisher, 1999, p. 19), it has led them to take different stances on different policies and to move away from the deep class divides that were so influential on policy making.Therefore the idea that there was a ‘silent revolution’ appears credible from this analysis with there appearing to be a definite shift in the political system in Western European democracies. This ‘unfreezing’ of party systems within Western European states is evident in Austria with the SPO and OVP parties dominating the political arena with 95% of parliamentary seats between them until the mid 1980s which saw ‘a process of continuous and apparently unstoppable erosion of the two party dominance’ (Rothacher, 1995, p. 71) from where it declined to two thirds by the mid 1990s.

This rise in alternative parties is typical of most democratic European states and has stemmed from various socio-economic changes like changing occupational structure; urbanisation; increasing geographical and social mobility; secularisation and ‘the educational revolution [which] can be regarded as having facilitated the rise of new protest movements’ (Rudig, 1988, p. 29). Table 1 shows how the two party system has declined since the end of the Second World War and how minority parties have progressed into being real contenders for power, an example being the FPO party which now controls over a fifth of the vote.Also ‘dissatisfaction with political parties increased and has been in part reflected in the growth in both post-materialist and more chauvinistic or authoritarian orientation’ (Luther, 1999, p. 131) because of this dissatisfaction the electorate of Austria have increased their participation through interest groups and other social movements which have grown to be able to introduce and maintain, with significant if not dominant, support.However this analysis has been criticised by some political scientists as over exaggerating the effects of structural change on the new protest movements. Rudig argues that the ‘strength of movements between countries are more likely to be related to the specific variations of issue related factors rather than the more minor differences among Western European nations in the structural facilitators’ (Rudig, 1988, p.

29). He believes that the social movements have stemmed just as much from arising issues and problems as they have from structural social change.This argument would go against the notion that there was a ‘silent revolution’ in West European politics, or at least against that it occurred solely due to structural change that Inglehart (1977) argues. Throughout the latter part of the 20th century Western Europe has seen an incredible surge in technology and communication has become as simple as sending E-mail which takes seconds to travel from one computer screen to another which is on the other side of the world.

Many pressed, with success, for ‘the urgent economic need to invest heavily in the new communications infrastructure as the basis for the third industrial revolution’ (Dyson, 1986, p. 11). This investment has changed the way ordinary people live and communicate, an example being how the Internet has allowed anyone to access information on almost anything at the click of a mouse. The European economy has been affected by this, companies can now communicate easily from country to country which makes it more viable for them to expand into different countries and become Multi-National Companies (MNC’s)Technology has brought about structural change in the jobs market in most of Western Europe’s industrial democracies.

Machines have taken many jobs away in factories and been replaced by ‘the large growth of employment in the non-productive service sector’ (Rudig, 1988, p. 29). This advance in communication and technology and the effect it has had on the European jobs market goes a significant way in proving that there was a ‘silent revolution’ in West European politics at least in this area of study.Also the changing job market, caused by this technology advance, can be linked with the growth of the ecology and new social movements whose members have been identified as coming mainly from this section of the jobs market (Rudig, 1988, 29), with changing job structures a new way of thinking began to evolve. There have certainly been significant changes in the European economy, which could support the notion that there was a silent revolution. When the EU was set up the idea of a Single Common Market would have been disregarded as being unrealistic.

This globalisation of the world markets and interdependence which is especially evident between West European countries ‘a generation ago did not exist or were seen as being of purely domestic concern’ (Nugent, 1999, p. 19). Like mentioned above this integration of the world markets has created an expansion of MNC’s moving into Europe and created a post-materialist movement which is against them, (Inglehart, 1977) these people are concerned with ‘protecting free speech and giving citizens more say in government’ (Kitschelt, 1994, p. 24). However there is also a materialism which has taken hold of society with people more concerned with well being, measured by personal wealth which is encouraged and partly created by these MNC’s. The increasing integration between the West European states signals the social change and growth of massive corporations that has happened there, there is less nationalism within states and citizens are willing to allow foreign influences if their way of life is improved.

To conclude ‘it seems at least plausible that inter-generational change is taking place in the value priorities of West European populations – and that this change may have a significant long term impact on their behaviour’ (Inglehart, 1971, p. 1017). Change in social values has dramatically changed in the latter half of the century, with class continuously declining in importance and new social movements like the feminist or post-materialist one.Technology has undergone a revolution in its own right and Europe has certainly seen a shift in values with bias towards EU integration.

However if Inglehart’s interpretation of a ‘silent revolution’ is accounted as a primary source proving there was one, then his analysis that there was ‘a dramatic shift from material economic to non-material political and cultural preferences mass publics, it is likely that neither Eastern nor Western Europe have experienced this revolution’ (Kitschelt, 1994, p. 59). The post-materialist revolution that Inglehart concentrates on has not appeared to have significantly ruled social values in the contemporary West European advanced Democracies. There should however be recognition that there was such a dramatic change in social values and human progress after the Second World War that it being labelled a ‘silent revolution’ seems quite fitting.